Both, Kapoor and the director have claimed their representation of anger is a lesson to be taken home, but their execution of it is certainly questionable!
When Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s Telugu movie, ‘Arjun Reddy’ released in 2017, it was highly criticized for its celebration of toxic masculinity wherein the protagonist’s abusive behaviour was justified by his inability to control his anger. Yet, barely two years later Vanga has now remade the movie with Bollywood, under the title, ‘Kabir Singh’, starring a heavily-bearded Shahid Kapoor as the protagonist, which once again follows the similar storyline about a man practically torturing the woman he loves solely due to his inability to control his anger.
In an interview during the promotion of the movie, quite expectedly reporters asked about the subject of the movie and its impact on the audience who have already criticized the original story. Vanga himself explained to reporters saying, “Anger is a very special quality. There is nothing wrong in using anger as a tool. It can be used in anyway an individual wants. I don't think the opinion of critics, what they mentioned during the Telugu film (was) playing in the back of my mind."
While the explanation is glaring with unfathomable ignorance of human behaviour, Kapoor’s own explanation was no less ridiculous.
He stated, “We are very hypocritical about how we tend to look at cinema made in India. We then watch things made internationally and praise them for the fact that they are so honest, straight and not trying to be politically correct all the time. Cinema is meant to showcase different people. It's not about wonderful, perfect people. I think we all are imperfect in our own ways. We all have grey areas within ourselves; we go through good and bad phases.”
He went on to explain, “To me, watching a film like Kabir Singh will help understand that when you allow yourself to be affected by those things, it can take you on the path of destruction. It can warn you from going in that route. For people who might've been there, it can be therapeutic. Cinema acts as a medicine. If you see something you relate to, it helps you have catharsis of sorts.”
Perhaps what both the director and the actor have failed to notice is the massive impact that cinema has had on the psychology of its audience. As much as the actor has tried to put up a noble explanation behind how cinema should be treated as a lesson learnt, he perhaps forgets the immense harm it had already done to those who were exposed to the abusive scenes that dominated a villain’s arc in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s movies. Perhaps one of the most prominent instances was Shah Rukh Khan’s Rahul in Karan Johar’s ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hain’. Tune down Kabir’s anger by 85% and increase his tendency to act as the superior by 65% and you get just the perfect ingredient to create a character who is so subtly toxic. Rahul’s treatment towards Anjali, a girl who likes sports better than a lipstick remained flat as long as Anjali did not show off her waistline with a seemingly transparent saree. Rahul falls head for heels for the best friend who had loved him even when he was nothing more than a desperate college jock.
Now tune up the so-called masculine aspect by 95% and you have Sunny Deol’s ‘Mard Ki Zaban’, which completely stereotyped men to the point where they were basically expected to be nothing by boulders made of stone and flesh. The legacy was further continued by many actors in whose movies women are nothing by trophies to be won with metal like muscles and the perfect male gaze. Unfortunately, even recently the trend has not gone down. Look around at any poster, or trailer, or maybe even a teaser, every movie will tell you the story about a man- completely unable to control his wrath- being the perfect representation of an idealized male. Hence, it is almost a surprise how Kapoor’s ‘Kabir Singh’ is any less of a celebration of toxic masculinity, as claimed by both actor and director.
The trailer itself introduces us to an alcoholic who, quite unfortunately, is supposed to be a well-known surgeon. However, we never really see him at the hospital but we do see him putting ice in his pants as what will soon be considered coolness. We see him chasing down a somewhat attractive fellow classmate who perhaps is trying to make something out of her life. Inconsiderate of any rules in an institution, he marches in and almost compels her to leave with him. As the trailer moves forward, we again see him turning absolutely abusive towards his maid who forgets to get ice and later on when his sensible colleague tries to control, he beats him up too. Hence, it is rather difficult to see how Kapoor’s ‘Kabir Singh’ is anything different from the celebratory toxic masculinity which has garnered Bollywood for so long!